Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Mayor of New York dabbles in Chicago politics

I had occasion this morning to be at the Sixth Municipal District Courthouse in Markham, Illinois. That put me right in the heart of Illinois' 2nd Congressional District, the one represented, until recently, by Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Jackson, Jr. (or Triple-J as he is sometimes known locally) is expected to plead guilty later this week to criminal charges involving the misuse of campaign funds. Among the more sensational allegations against Jackson is that he spent campaign money on Bruce Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Michael Jackson memorabilia (a hat, supposedly, in the last instance). I can almost understand a politician wanting to acquire items once belonging to one of these three -- and, no, I'm not talking about Bruce Lee. Or Michael Jackson. But I can't understand the diversion of campaign funds. Triple-J has been in and around politics for just about his entire life, thanks to his famous father. If anyone should know better, he should.

But this essay is not about JJJ's legal problems (or those of his wife -- she's also been indicted and is expected to enter a guilty plea on tax charges soon); rather, this is about the race to fill Jackson's vacated seat.

I don't know how much play this is getting nationally, but the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, is pouring money into the 2nd District special election via his personal super pac, Independence USA PAC.

I can understand why the Mayor of Chicago might be interested in JJJ's successor -- although the district stretches all the way to Kankakee, it takes in a fair chunk of Chicago's South Side -- but I can't see why the Mayor of New York has any business dabbling in our elections.

Don't we have enough problems here without him?

Congressional candidate, and Bloomberg favorite,
former State Rep. Robin Kelly
The beneficiary of Mayor Bloomberg's largesse is former State Rep. Robin Kelly. Kelly served most recently as Chief Administrative Officer for Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle. Kelly resigned from that job to make this run -- and President Preckwinkle initially endorsed one of Kelly's many opponents, State Sen. Toi Hutchinson. Hutchinson, for her part, just dropped out of the race after being targeted by Bloomberg's attack ads. The other target of Bloomberg's blasts is former one-term Congressman Debbie Halvorson, who lost her seat in the 2010 Republican surge and is trying to get back to Washington. Halvorson lost to JJJ in the 2012 Democratic Primary. Jackson did not actively campaign in the primary. Even before the current Federal investigation became known, it was widely reported that Jackson was under investigation in the House for allegedly offering then-Gov. Blagojevich some consideration for Barack Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate. Instead of campaigning, Jackson Jr. retreated into isolation for treatment of an unspecified illness, which turned out to be depression and bipolar disorder.

For her part, Kelly denies any 'deal' with Bloomberg, claiming essentially to be just pleasantly surprised that Mayor Bloomberg has gone 1,000 miles out of his way to lend a hand. If Mayor Bloomberg is so eager to invest in this area, I wish he'd give me some money, so I could pay down some of my bills -- but I support Mayor Bloomberg's constitutional right to waste his considerable fortune any foolish way he wishes.

Bloomberg has chosen to burn money buying ads on our airwaves concerning gun control. His attack ads here have painted Halvorson and Hutchinson as being mouthpieces for the NRA -- even suggesting that they were in favor of arming criminals across state lines.

As I was driving back from the courthouse this morning, through the 2nd District, through neighborhoods plagued by street gangs and guns, I could understand why residents of the area might be concerned about out-of-control crime.

But... excuse me... has anyone read the Constitution lately? No, I'm not talking about the Second Amendment. I'm talking about something even more fundamental: The federal government does not police the streets of Chicago. All of these candidates are running for Congress, not for Chief of Police or Sheriff. Congress has a role to play, surely, in the national debate over guns -- but that role pales in significance, pales to the point of triviality, when compared to the myriad of other, real problems over which Congress has actual, constitutional responsibility: Taxes. Trade. Deficits. Budgets. We are in the midst of a Great Recession that everyone -- except those living in the Beltway -- knows to be ongoing. In Illinois' 2nd Congressional District we have families where generations have never held a job. Unemployment is at staggering levels in that distict. The South Side and south suburbs are among the areas hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. Instead of talking about the sideshow of gun control, would it be too much to ask the candidates to talk about some issues or articulate positions that are more in the job description and responsibilities of a Member of Congress?

Am I asking too much again?

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